A contaminant responsible for causing a food-borne illness that sent more than 40 shuttle drivers for the Coachella Music & Arts Festival to hospitals was identified by investigators, county officials said Friday, but it remained unclear exactly what food item was tainted.
One driver who became ill shortly after eating the shuttle bus company’s employee-catered dinner for the festival took some of the food home. Staphylococcal aureus (Staph) — a toxin that can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea — was detected in the food sample by a state health department laboratory, according to the county.
However, since the food items were mixed, health officials were unable to determine the specific food item that caused the sickness.
“Through collaboration with Environmental Health and the vendor, we have been able to interview hundreds of people who attended the dinner with the idea of determining the circumstances around the meal,” Kim Saruwatari, director of the Riverside County Public Health Department, said in a statement. “The goal was to identify the specific food or item that caused so many to become ill.”
More than 300 interviews were conducted by investigators with the Riverside County departments of public health and environmental health, both with people who became ill and those who did not.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Staph-related food illnesses last one day at most and severe illness is rare. The agency warns against keeping perishable food in room temperatures for over two hours to avoid food poisoning by Staph.
The investigation to find the source of the food-borne illness was limited to shuttle drivers who reached out about their illness and sought medical care from a hospital or medical provider within Riverside County.
More than 40 people were taken to three hospitals within the Coachella Valley following the dinner.
Shortly after midnight on April 25, the Riverside County Fire Department received several reports about sub-contracted shuttle drivers feeling ill after eating food from the same caterer.
Shuttle drivers reported feeling nauseous and vomiting.
No attendees of the music festival were affected, according to officials.